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Large Hadron Collider Struggling 371

Posted by kdawson
from the trillion-here-a-trillion-there dept.
Writing in the NY Times, Dennis Overbye covers the birthing pangs and the prospects for CERN's Large Hadron Collider (which we have discussed numerous times). "The biggest, most expensive physics machine in the world is riddled with thousands of bad electrical connections. [And] many of the magnets meant to whiz high-energy subatomic particles around a 17-mile underground racetrack have mysteriously lost their ability to operate at high energies. Some physicists are deserting the European project, at least temporarily, to work at a smaller, rival machine [Fermilab's Tevatron] across the ocean. ... Technicians have spent most of the last year cleaning up and inspecting thousands of splices in the collider. About 5,000 will have to be redone... Retraining magnets is costly and time consuming, experts say, and it might not be worth the wait to get all the way to the original target energy [of 7 TeV]. Many physicists say they would be perfectly happy if the collider never got above five trillion electron volts. Dr. Myers said he thought the splices as they are could handle 4 [TeV]. 'We could be doing physics at the end of November,' he said in July, before new vacuum leaks pushed the schedule back a few additional weeks. 'It's not the design energy of the machine, but it's 4 times higher than the Tevatron,' he said."
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Large Hadron Collider Struggling

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  • by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare@NoSpaM.gmail.com> on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:14PM (#28944781) Homepage Journal

    is also usually hard to do

    the setbacks are part and parcel of such a complicated effort

    keep up the hard work, you are broadening mankind's knowledge, the expense and the hard work are as valid an endeavour as any other that can be proposed

    • by natehoy (1608657) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:16PM (#28944821) Journal
      Agreed. There's a reason the term "cutting edge" is used to describe cutting edge science, and in cutting edge science, well, if it worked perfectly the first time it probably wasn't very ambitious.
      • Is this really cutting-edge technology, or just a bigger circle?
        • by vlm (69642)

          Is this really cutting-edge technology, or just a bigger circle?

          From an engineering standpoint, scalability is always a cutting-edge type of problem. No different than .... IT stuff.

      • by BBF_BBF (812493) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:02PM (#28945665)
        Just because it's "cutting edge" doesn't mean it must fail the first time they try to run it for real.... having so many bad joints as part of the reason for failure is a sign of poor workmanship and quality control given the multi-billion dollar budget. It's not a bunch of mad scientists working in their garage on their own dime, it's a bunch of *highly paid* mad scientists using scads of public funds.

        I'd give them the "cutting edge" argument if the physics didn't turn out as expected, but bad joints... give me a break.

        So much for swiss workmanship. ;-)
    • by Rei (128717) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:17PM (#28944855) Homepage

      Given the reduced energy: Re, the Higgs Boson (that's the one that everybody talks about): Is that still the one sure thing that this machine will sort out? If the Higgs exists, will they still see it right away, and if it doesn't, will the scientists still finally say, "There is no Higgs, we need new physics to account for why; things have mass, something in our standard model went awry"?

      • by tom17 (659054)

        Love the reference. I think I had her singing it in my head as I read it just now.

      • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:59PM (#28945637) Journal
        The aim is still to go to 7TeV/beam this is only a temporary reduction in energy. In addition all the evidence so far points to a low mass higgs, not up at the hard ~1TeV/c2 limit where the energy is actually important. This is not unprecedented - the Tevatron which was supposed to be 1TeV/beam ran at 0.8 TeV for the first run and increased it to 0.96 TeV for the second run.
        However, That being said it was never really the case that would would turn the machine on and the Higgs would magically pop out of the ether for all to see. The most likely scenario is a low mass Higgs which decays to b-quarks. Unfortunately the LHC will be EXTREMELY good at producing b quarks from known physic processes (there is even a entire experiment devoted to studying them - LHCb). The result is that a lot of hard, painstaking work will be needed before we can spot the b quarks from a Higgs from background "ordinary" b quarks. Of course there is still a chance that the Higgs might have enough mass to decay to two Z bosons which would be very easy to see early on but, if the Standard Model Higgs exists, the chance looks slim.
      • by The Grim Reefer2 (1195989) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:05PM (#28945717)

        Given the reduced energy: Re, the Higgs Boson (that's the one that everybody talks about): Is that still the one sure thing that this machine will sort out? If the Higgs exists, will they still see it right away, and if it doesn't, will the scientists still finally say, "There is no Higgs, we need new physics to account for why; things have mass, something in our standard model went awry"?

        No, it won't. Actually God keeps breaking the LHC. You didn't think (s)he'd let a bunch of monkeys have h(er/is) particle do you?

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by N1ck0 (803359)
        Detecting the Higgs Boson is not a process where you turn on an accelerator, smash some protons and go...'look there it is'.

        Basically they are never going to see a higgs boson, they are going to look at all the stuff that flies out of these collisions and trace back each bit and try to figure out where what its lifecycle was. When you find something that isn't explained by known particles and fits the model of the higgs boson you can statistically believe it exists.

        If the Higgs does exist it you ma
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by jollyreaper (513215)

      is also usually hard to do

      the setbacks are part and parcel of such a complicated effort

      True. But could there be additional complications? To compare it to another grandiose project, the Three Gorges Dam. For starters, it's a prestige project so the Party cannot allow it to fail without losing much face. Second, if there are any technical shortcomings in the design, they will be covered up due to the pressure from on-high. Third, there's theft by contractors in the substitution of inferior materials, allegations of defective workmanship, and so forth. And again, these issues would be covered u

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by tacarat (696339)
      True, but I'm sure the term "lowest bidder" had something to do with this as well.
  • All (Score:5, Funny)

    by Dunbal (464142) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:15PM (#28944785)

    High school physics students will tell you that physics experiments are doomed from the start.

    If it smells, it's Chemistry.
    If it squirms, it's Biology.
    If it doesn't work, it's Physics.

    Just how they managed to suck billions of dollars from governments is beyond me, unless political "science" isn't really a science at all!

    PS: for the humor impaired: This is a joke.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      PS: for the humor impaired: This is a joke.

      Perhaps; but for the rest of us it isn't.

    • Re:All (Score:5, Funny)

      by CorporateSuit (1319461) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:33PM (#28945177)

      Just how they managed to suck billions of dollars from governments is beyond me

      Well, you could say the LHC working better than intended. Instead of making a black hole, it became one.

      • by hedwards (940851)
        Indeed, and they'd better be preying to the all-powerful Atheismo that Fermilab doesn't beat them to it. You know the other collider that looks like it has a good shot at beating them to it with a much smaller collider and for a fraction of the cost. I mean of course since they haven't already, they might not ever for one reason or another, but it'll be terribly embarrassing for the Europeans if they do.
    • by elrous0 (869638) *
      Not to worry. CERN just got word that a group of experienced programmers is now available to help finish the job. They all recently got laid off at 3D Realms, and are raring to go on a new project. In their first released statement, they assured CERN and the public that "The LHC will be done when it's done."
  • by Overzeetop (214511) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:16PM (#28944815) Journal

    ...that's what happen when you hire the low bidder?

    • Seriously, I'm a troll?

      This is some pretty difficult, complex work. As a sibling post pointed out, there are very highly stressed systems. Whoever bid this - and, no, I don't know anything about how it was bid but I have my suspicions - probably didn't decide to go hire a crack team of the best assemblers in Europe. They figured their standard labor for guys (and gals) who wire up buildings, telecom, and other lab environments. I work with these types of people sometimes, and they're not always focused on t

    • by oldhack (1037484)
      If only they had gone with Haliburton...
  • by fahrbot-bot (874524) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:17PM (#28944849)
    For now, it will only be able to collide small and medium Hadrons...
  • Conspiracy (Score:5, Funny)

    by Hadlock (143607) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:17PM (#28944851) Homepage Journal

    Anyone ever think that Fermilab is paying Cern employees to sabotage their collider? Each setback adds 6-8 months to the life of Fermilab...

    • by sys.stdout.write (1551563) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:34PM (#28945211)
      I have proof of this! Just check out the magnets they are using for the LHC:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:LHC_quadrupole_magnets.jpg [wikipedia.org]
      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        Ha!

        And not only have you proven Fermilab is out to sabotage the LHC, you've also proven that Fermilab plays Horde.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      no.
    • And don't forget the first failure ocurred because of a design fault on one of the Fermilab-built magnets. I'm with you on this one, those sneaky physicists.

      • by hedwards (940851)
        Not to pass the blame, but was there really no way of testing it for design faults before installation? I mean sure you can't see how the whole thing works until you turn it on, but if the LHC guys can't figure out how to test it before installation, I'm not sure how the Fermilab guys could have.

        Yeah, I know it's a tad blame the victim like, but it seems to me that this is an EU sort of problem.
    • I really don't. FNAL has a huge LHC team: they devote 3 floors of Wilson to supporting the US contingent of the experiment. Any LHC setback is a setback for Fermilab as well.
  • 2012 (Score:5, Funny)

    by lobiusmoop (305328) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:18PM (#28944857) Homepage

    FTFA:
    "scientists say it could be years, if ever, before the collider runs at full strength"

    Looking more and more likely that a Dec 2012 full-power test could be on the cards.

  • by rehtonAesoohC (954490) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:18PM (#28944867) Journal
    This makes me think back to when I used to play World of Warcraft.

    There was a character running around named: "Drphillip" and I thought to myself, "huh, interesting name he has." And then all of a sudden, he started shouting in town:

    "OH NOES. teh large hardon collider is turning onz0rz!!!"
  • ...now I know. They haven't actually flipped the switch yet.

    Okay, back to work. Maybe a Vogon constructor fleet will get here first.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by maxwell demon (590494)

      Don't worry, the Vogons will not be here until 2012.
      You know that famous Maya calendar? Well, actually it's the timing diagram for the final phase of Earth's computer program.

  • by Foobar of Borg (690622) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:19PM (#28944883)
    I'd give them 3 years, 4.5 months to get it up and running correctly. But that's just me.
  • by elrous0 (869638) * on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:19PM (#28944885)
    Maybe if you weren't taking those 5 weeks a year of vacation time and working more than 35 hours a week, you could get it done on time! ;-)
    • Not to mention that if they ever get this thing up and running think of all the jobs that will be lost.
    • Maybe if you weren't taking those 5 weeks a year of vacation time and working more than 35 hours a week, you could get it done on time! ;-)

      Well, there's the difference between the US and the EU. Do you want it done on time, or do you want it done correctly? (yes, I know you were joking, but then so am I) ^_^

    • ...and yet the Run II of the Tevatron was similarly delayed and that was for a machine which was only upgraded. So having established that 5 weeks of holiday a year does not seem to affect the outcome perhaps "sensible" would be a better description.
    • Re:Lazy Europeans (Score:5, Informative)

      by spire3661 (1038968) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:30PM (#28946103) Journal
      Sigh, typical American 'work yourself to death' mentality...I say this as an American.....
  • I don't blame it. If I were a Large Hadron Collider, I would probably struggle too.

  • WTF??? (Score:5, Funny)

    by DoofusOfDeath (636671) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:20PM (#28944923)

    After I invested my entire 401(k) in crowbars???

  • 1. once an effective way to control time travel is discovered, said method will be able to exist at all times.
    2. no method has yet been discovered.

    therefore,

    3. the method cannot be discovered.

    and finally,

    4. any device which will allow its discovery cannot ever be operational.

    it's in the manual, dummies.

  • ... best of what's still around. I've noticed a distinct decline in the quality of professional services in the last decade. In the midwest and the New England region of the US, at least. Based on this story, maybe the same is happening in Europe. In the past 2 years, I've had electricians, plumbers, painters, carpenters and landscapers at the house to execute various jobs I have needed. In most cases, I have had to fix problems myself after the "professional tradesman" declared the job finished, wrote
    • Re: (Score:2, Offtopic)

      by Grishnakh (216268)

      That's interesting. Here in Arizona, it's a little different. Most of the contractors like you mention are either illegals, or meth-heads. The meth-heads can't return phone calls, can't show up on time, are flaky and unreliable. The illegals are cheap, but frequently don't know what the hell they're doing and do substandard work as a result. Non-illegal, non-meth-head, reliable and competent contractors are extremely rare around here.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Both of your stories are a result of our society telling teenagers that if they want to get ahead, they should go to college, even if their academic skills are no better than average and their trade skills are above average.
      • by c0d3g33k (102699)
        I've lived in the Southwest. Not that different, really. Most of the 'state-licensed' contractors here in Connecticut (my home for the last 2 years) haven't returned phone calls, shown up on time and are flaky or unreliable. They are decidedly NOT illegals - these are people that I've picked out of the available pool *because* they actually have a license to operate within the state. I shudder to think what havok the "illegal" population would wreak. Actually, they could not do much worse than the so-c
        • by Grishnakh (216268)

          No, here the non-illegals are the ones who are flaky and unreliable. I'm pretty sure most of them are on meth. You wonder what they do to earn money since they can't be bothered to return phone calls? I imagine meth has something to do with it.

          The illegals, on the other hand, are actually very reliable and punctual. They show up early in the morning when they're supposed to. They really make the "licensed contractors" look bad. For things they're good at, they generally do a decent to good job. But t

          • by c0d3g33k (102699)
            Ok, I'm officially depressed. Or maybe elated, since my penchant for "do it myself" has been validated. We're in danger of totally hijacking this story on a non-relevant tangent, so I don't want to add fuel to the fire any more. Please - no more posts on the specifics of the above posts. The original premise still stands, however. I'll restate it as follows: Are the bad electrical connections of the LHC the result of shoddy workmanship as a result of the decline in professional ethics? I'd really lik
      • by ragefan (267937) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:41PM (#28946271)

        Non-illegal, non-meth-head, reliable and competent contractors are extremely rare around here.

        It's probably because the "non-illegal, non-meth-head, reliable and competent contractors" were constantly underbid and thus driven out of business by people that would rather save a buck than have it done right.

    • by Roger W Moore (538166) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:22PM (#28945975) Journal

      ... best of what's still around. I've noticed a distinct decline in the quality of professional services in the last decade.

      Unrelated. The LHC failures have all been caused by unforeseen consequences of standard techniques applied in completely unique situations or new techniques developed to suit the situation. When you are doing something that has literally never, ever been done before things like this are common. Prior experience can only take you so far after that you are learning how to do the thing because you are the first person to ever do it. This is a far cry from installing a sink or rewiring a house which has been done thousands of times before and for which the ways in which it can fail are well known and can be avoided.

      The people involved in the work are not just a few plumbers and electricians that were called up from the local yellow pages (or Pages Jaunes at CERN) but are either CERN employees or employers of contractors. My experience has been that while they are extremely "union" orientated (they are very particular about their breaks, starting/stopping work etc) they are also extremely professional to the point where they have come and shown be the right way to do something so it did not make their work look unprofessional!

  • Don't Settle (Score:3, Insightful)

    by CopaceticOpus (965603) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:35PM (#28945227)

    I hope they don't settle for running at a lower energy just to avoid criticism about the start date. There is too much potential for what we could discover using the collider's full capacity.

    If it is at all feasible to get this running at or near 100%, it's worth it to put in the time now to fix it. I'd rather wait another year now, then wait 30+ years for the next accelerator to be built.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Late Adopter (1492849)
      Aside from the electrical connections, the magnets need to be trained to reach the fields necessary to sufficiently bend a 7TeV beam. The last talk I heard on the status of the magnets was that this was a very non-linear effect. We could probably get to 5, 5.5 with not that much difficulty (again, when the electrical connections are repaired)... but even getting to 6 will take *quite* an investment of down-time. The cost/benefit curve has a very clear kink in it.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Chris Burke (6130)

        The cost/benefit curve has a very clear kink in it.

        Well then figure out what its kink is, and hire it an open-minded hooker or something to straighten it out. Geeze, do I have to think of everything?

  • by Stele (9443) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:37PM (#28945265) Homepage

    Sounds like they need to get the Milliard Gargantubrain or the Googleplex Star Thinker working on a solution, and fast!

  • Sure, some science gets done at both. But at the cost of constructing these facilities?
  • by FlyingSquidStudios (1031284) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:46PM (#28945421) Homepage
    otherwise, I might think that God really does hate scientists like the fundamentalists claim.
  • They know if the thing is turned on it will create "red matter" and suck the whole Earth into it. (Sounds like a movie plot)
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by ijakings (982830)
      Yeah I wonder where from? Must be one of those B-Movies, red matter doesnt sound to well thought out or explained. Maybe Rambaldi was behind it somehow.
  • I have long wondered how it is that physicists can create ONE monstrous detector, and be completely certain that it works within spec... and within the design precisoin and accuracy.

    BUT chip makers, SSD hard drive makers [slashdot.org], space telescope mirror makers and rocket engine companies can have test runs in the zillions... and they still fail. Either catastrophically, or just bad math answers ;-) Their bugs go undetected until production. I've done spacecraft component testing where a valve passes 1,000,000 ti
    • by ijakings (982830)
      The collective power of their smugness that every science other than mathematics is below them.
    • by vlm (69642)

      I have long wondered how it is that physicists can create ONE monstrous detector, and be completely certain that it works within spec... and within the design precisoin and accuracy.

      Its not one detector, the whole point is its a zillion detectors operating in parallel, so you just calibrate them all relative to each other...

      Check out the specs on just the tracker layer of the CMS detector... essentially a 76 megapixel ultra high speed movie camera. I suspect, if one channel fails, thats considered OK, they'll work around it. Or consider the calorimeter layer, which is built out of 61200 crystals, as long as 60K or so of them are working in spec, that's probably good enough for good d

  • by Nom du Keyboard (633989) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @02:55PM (#28945583)
    Real clever of those Tevatron people to masquerade as electricians during the LHC construction. They'll have the God Particle safely in the bag while those upstart Europeans are still chasing their tail.
  • by Tetsujin (103070) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:25PM (#28946029) Homepage Journal

    I knew I should have read my copy of Forrest Mims's "Getting Started in Electronics" more carefully before working on the Large Hadron Collider!

  • by T Murphy (1054674) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:30PM (#28946093) Journal
    In recent upgrades to the LHC, the collider has been equipped to smash large amounts of money together and observe its annihilation:

    "We start with a 50 Euro note and a 50 USD note," Dr. Grotzy explained. "We accelerate them to near the speed of light- interesting things can happen when the velocity of money gets this high. When the beams of Euros and USDs collide - thousands of notes per minute- we get some interesting reactions.
    "This is a photograph of one such collision- an annihilation as you can see," Grotzy said, pointing at the annotated diagram. "The buck stops here."
    "Out of it you can see these spiraling particles. Given the $50 is one of the ingredient particles, we call this 'Grant money going down the drain'.
    "The experiment is actually quite easy to run. If the beams start to wane you just go up to the generator and throw more money at it.
    "To keep busy we'll be adding more projects. With with a little more funding from the Brits, we can test out a heating system powered by burning cash. Convert a pound's mass into energy.
    "Some people are concerned this collider will produce economic black holes that will destroy the worldwide economy. I can assure you this is nothing but uninformed rumor.
  • by Lord Bitman (95493) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:50PM (#28946453) Homepage

    the LHC could still be awesome.

  • It's proof! (Score:5, Funny)

    by fudoniten (918077) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:57PM (#28946533)
    Here's what's going on: in every universe that the LHC works, the earth immediately disappears in a giant black hole, so, by the entropic principle, we must always be in one of the failures. The project will be plagued with failure until they give up! It's proof positive that we live in a multiverse!
  • by dsinc (319470) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @03:58PM (#28946539) Journal

    My Hadron is fading away...

  • by w0mprat (1317953) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:19PM (#28946849)
    4 [TeV] should be enough to bring about doomsday, just get on with it.

    I have a family reunion in december I need to get out of, and a rogue singularity orbiting the core of the earth is a nice excuse not to go.
  • by Lawrence_Bird (67278) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:21PM (#28946873) Homepage

    CERN management did not want to undertake any significant low power testing and consequently suffered a major failure. In addition, as it now seems clear, the overall oversight left something to be desired. I'm not saying people did not work very hard but it is difficult to believe corners were not cut in a race to get running before the Tevatron could start accumulating enough statistics to allow them to spot and claim the Higgs (though still not likely at the 5 sigma level.)

  • by PingXao (153057) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @04:23PM (#28946893)

    If we ever are to control things like gravity and other exotic properties of spacetime it will be with insight and knowledge gained through particle physics theory and experimentation. Sometimes I wonder what discoveries we turned our backs on by cancelling the Superconducting Supercollider that was to be built in Texas. It was cancelled in 1993 in the face of cost overruns. When you look at the history of that project, however, it's clear that it NEEDED to be cancelled. It had become a black hole for money because of design and construction cost overruns. It was more out of control than any strange particles it might have produced. I hope the Large Hadron Collider doesn't suffer the same fate, but it doesn't bode well for the future when the overall design and QC on the manufactured components are now being called into question. Sad. When ambitious projects such as these founder it's usually their own fault.

  • Not quite (Score:4, Interesting)

    by smoker2 (750216) on Tuesday August 04, 2009 @05:12PM (#28947625) Homepage Journal
    Why does the NYTimes article say things that are out of date, inaccurate and in some cases flat out wrong ? The interview with Myers is dated 2 July but this article [cerncourier.com] from CERN itself dates from the 15th and does not specify any figures for the number of bad connections. They have to run the tests before they know how many bad connections there are, and that hasn't been completed.

    So basically this is a fluff piece that takes various peoples statements out of context and tries to promote a problem that CERN itself does not support. Yes it's late, yes there are issues, but the title LHC struggles is hardly warranted.

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